Graham County, Arizona was created in 1881 from little bits of both Pima and Apache counties and is located in the southeastern part of the state. This decision to merge parts of the original counties was carried out by the 11th Territorial Legislature. There are almost 38,000 people living in Graham County as of 2010’s census. Most counties in the area were named after Native American tribes, but this county went against the grain, being named after Mount Graham, which stands a steep 10,516 feet above sea level. By proxy, the county is named after Lt. Col. James Duncan Graham who was a high-ranking senior officer of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
There are several cities that make up the area of Graham County. Most of these are:
Bonita, Bylas, Fort Thomas, Geronimo, Klondyke, Pima, Safford (County Seat), Solomon, Thatcher, Turkey Flat, and the independently governed area known as the San Carlos Indian Reservation. This area of the country generally only receives around 9 inches of precipitation throughout the entire year. Several of these smaller towns have very few of the original buildings or structures still standing, and several of these few standing places such as Bonita, Sanchez, Geronimo, and Safford even have a history of being haunted, especially the old postal stops along the path of the original railway.
As far as actual geographical statistics, the area of Graham County is mostly made of arid, dry, plains. While there is a very high amount of drought in the area, there is a great deal of underground water that keeps the area from being desolate and unusable. Bonita Creek, Gila River, and lots of underwater springs pop up all across the county, and when it does rain, it has little effect on the terrain at all since it is completely dry most of the time. There is a mixture of climates here, since it bears both water and desert, so it is deemed as a climatically transitional area, which is rare. This means that there are many different types of flora and fauna together in one place that would normally only see one set or the other. One of the best parts about Graham County’s history is that there is an extremely varied history of plant and animal life that changes with the climate. This unique mixture of climates makes it a great Riparian area, which means that lots of water-loving plants and animals are in the area, not something that is common in mostly desert areas. The total area of the county is 4,641 square miles in total.
One of the biggest draws for tourists who come to Arizona, but Graham County in particular is the naturally occurring hot springs in the area. Visitors can soak in hot springs at the same place as they can ride down the natural sand dunes at the Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area any time of the year for a very minimal park pass fee. For those who love outdoor activities and the heat, this is definitely a destination for them. Graham County offers several spots for enjoying hot springs in their natural setting, but also has several formally established facilities for these same types of activities.
Part of Graham County is an Indian reservation made up of just over 15,390 members that encompasses parts of two other surrounding counties as well. The San Carlos Indian Reservation was established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant and was quickly settled upon by many who were taken from their original lands by US soldiers. While these tribe members from the Apache nation were forced to live alongside other tribes with whom they were both amicable and even those with whom they were warring or fighting with, the even bigger tragedy is that those who were trusting enough to be housed by the newly settled people who had taken their lands from them were being neglected, treated as slaves, or even used and killed as an enslaved group of people. Today, these people are living in their own area, governed by their own rules and regulations for the most part without intervention from the outside. They have their own group of tribal police to take care of things within their reservation and are living with just about the same level of income and poverty that the rest of the state has. While most of the agricultural growth has stalled in this part of Graham County and given way to casinos and grocery stores, the people living on the San Carlos Apache reservation are a mixture of talented, culturally rich people whose history refuses to be forgotten in the midst of technology and progress.
Graham County is chock full of historical tidbits and there are still blatant remnants of its past remaining to this day. The Native tribes from this area used the ground for sacred rites and for crops and burial purposes. As a result, there is always a great deal of archaeological exploration taking place nearby. Quite a few ancient grave sites and even more villages and structures have been unearthed, making this one of the most artifact-rich areas of the state of Arizona.
More recent findings have been uncovered to show that Chief Geronimo (Actually Goyaale) and his tribesmen and women were battled with in this area by US Cavalrymen. Artifacts and written texts have confirmed that the fighting happened in this very area when lands were being taken from the Native people and that it was a bloody fight for many who were laid to rest here. There is now a town called Geronimo in this heroic Chief’s honor and memory. He was captured in Graham County by US soldiers eventually. The most ancient beginnings of the US Postal Service made a stop here when it was still a stop along the original working railway system here back in 1860. This mail stop was laid to rest in May of 1956.
A new wave of settlers followed the first ones, this time in the middle 1800s, bringing Mormonism into the area. These settlers eventually created smaller towns and settlements that turned into larger settlements as time went on. The Mormons brought lots more innovation and many more ideas to aid in the progression of farming technology in those early days such as new ideas on how to improve on the irrigation methods that were introduced by the first groups of settlers in Graham County. Once a good, strong system for transporting water was established, it was more desirable for people to settle in the area, so they did so with enthusiasm. Graham County was written into creation because the early settlers knew that they had created a great area for bringing up crops and for raising their livestock and families.
Another major historical significance about Graham County, Arizona is that it was chosen by some of the debut members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the mid 1850’s. These pioneers did not hinder progress across the southwestern United States; they made it blossom and come to fruition quite successfully. They brought new faith and values to the people who were already settled into the area. These new residents knew how to cultivate and tend to the land to make it fertile and to create quite a hearty yield of crops in order to keep their hunger satiated during cold, barren winter months. Their ability to use the land wisely and to remain respectful of it was unlike that of most of the gold-seeking folk who had already ripped across the country on their way west in search of riches. These people brought the idea of irrigation with them and set up an elaborate system for water distribution that changed farming across the entire country.
The last major historical note to come out of Graham County is that there was a fairly large influx of New Mexico residents that brought Spanish language and culture into this area of Arizona. These original settlers managed to find their way to the area that is now called Sanchez/San Jose, which is East of a small area called Safford. Specifically, the area known as Sanchez is called such after a settler named Lorenzo Sanchez that came to the area in 1879.
Lastly on the list of interesting things to know about Graham County is that there are several extremely beautiful state parks that host many tourists and locals alike year-round. Roper Lake State Park is one of the most beautiful places in Graham County, boasting a 30-acre lake and several camping areas. This lends to visitors being able to go boating, fishing, hiking, and camping with ease. The lake is full of trout and bass and is a safe place for children to learn how to fish and drop in a line. Boats are allowed as long as they have small engines. This breathtaking park is located close to Safford. Next, The 23,000-acre Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area has tons of wildlife and lots to do and see. From bird watching to taking a swim or rafting thrtough the rapids of the Gila River, this is a very popular place for people who want to take a break on any given day. This amazing area even hosts hot springs. San Francisco and Gila rivers and Eagle and Bonita creeks make this a very water-rich area in an otherwise hot vacation destination. For those history buffs out there, there are original dwelling sites from some original settlers, several cliff side dwellings and structures, and lots of artifacts to explore. The many species of sheep, mountain lions, and birds in the area make it quite the attractive area for people to view wildlife in its naturally occurring state. This park is located around 20 miles northeast of Safford. Lastly, the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness area is exactly what it says, presenting its visitors with almost 20,000 acres of untamed wilderness. This area is so undeveloped and unexplored that in order to visit, people have to get a permit. This park holds the beautiful Aravaipa Canyon, which reaches 1,000 feet deep in places and varies in elevation depending on where you are. Visitors to this area of Graham County are in for a treat if seclusion and being alone is what they crave. As a government sanctioned area, nothing will destroy these protected areas. Graham County definitely has a lot to offer visitors as far as scenery and tourism goes.
County Seat and Its History
The Graham County seat is called Safford currently, but was temporarily switched to Solomonville in 1883 until being switched back in 1915. Being the county seat simply means that the town of Safford is the most important, most capital-like city in the county, and that most of the important or legal happenings occur in this place. According to the 2010 census of the American population, Safford had close to 10,000 residents alone. The County Seat anchors the entire county financially and politically. Safford is the main city of the entire Safford Micropolis Statistical Area, but is backed in every way by the rest of Graham County. Safford is 8.6 square miles of land and it boasts an extremely warm climate for most of the year. Average high temperatures hover around 98-104 degrees and averages lows around 20 degrees. The low elevation of 2952 feet lends to the ability for dryness and heat to overtake the area for most of the year.
Safford was founded by three gentlemen by the names of Joshua Eaton Bailey, Edward Tuttle, and Hiram Kennedy. They came to Safford from Gila Bend around 1873 during the winter when high water levels destroyed the dams and canals that they were working on and work became scarce. When they arrived, they established the site where the town would be built and built some very basic structures to mark the town as functional. This town ended up being named for the governor of the Arizona Territory, Anson P.K. Safford and was made official as an incorporation in October of 1901. The water-rich terrain and lush plant life made this area of Arizona comparable to heaven in the eyes of the early settlers who had made the long trek across such dry, desolate territory to get there.
Economically speaking, Safford makes most of its money from larger companies such as Wal-Mart, Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold (Whose two newest facilities make up the largest mining operations in the country), Bowman Consulting Group, Arizona State Prison Complex, several agricultural agencies that raise cattle and crops alike, DRG Tech Inc, Safford Unified School District, and Open Loop Energy to name a few. The Arizona Eastern Railway and an air facility are the major transportation options in this area, and there are also several highways that service Safford. Rt 191 is the main thoroughfare from I-10 and many upgrades to the main highways nearby are being made as well such as a loop being built into Rt. 70 that connects more parts of the city together to allow for more transportation of goods and services between towns.
Safford boasts a successful Unified School District that educates most if not all of the students from the entire city. Eastern Arizona College is a great place to go for more high-level classes and to learn more about agriculture and will soon be upgraded from a two-year college to a four-year college. Discovery Park Campus is one of the most widely-celebrated destinations for field trips and family visits as they provide tours of their world-revered observatory. Mt. Graham International Observatory has the most high-grade 20″ Cassagrain type telescope, which is the world’s largest permanently mounted “camera obscura”. You can take a journey through the Milky Way Galaxy on a simulated ride, and you can also see the “History of Astronomy” display. As a final bonus, you can hike through miles and miles of nature trails and observe some of the best local flora and fauna at the pond on the property, such as large birds of prey, many species of reptiles and amphibians, and fish too.
Safford-City/Graham County public library allows residents of the area to access newspapers, magazines, computers, job training, classes, and other community gatherings that bring people closer together. Children can enjoy story time and can use computer equipment to make sure that schoolwork is done correctly and thoroughly. The Police force in Safford is led by Chief of Police Joe Brugman and is aided by the larger police force from Graham County. The volunteer fire department takes care of any emergency situations in Safford and has been operating with a team of 13 people since 1907. The fire department has expanded to include 32 people in total and helps more than 200 families per year with dire circumstances from fires to rescue situations. The fire department serves the entire 115 mile radius around the city of Safford as well.
Safford’s most notable contribution to the world has definitely got to be its observatory facilities. Since Safford is located in almost complete seclusion from other cities, its isolation provides a very small amount of nighttime light, so the conditions are ideal for stargazing. The surrounding areas are chock full of people who want to keep this idea alive, so homes and even city lights are more dim in order to allow the observation of things in the heavens more easily. Pictures taken from the observatory southwest of the main city are often ranked as being some of the most in-depth and accurate of any taken across the globe. The Mount Graham International Observatory houses the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, the Heinrich Hertz Submillimeter Telescope, and the soon-to-be-completed Large Binocular Telescope, which will be the only one of its strength in the entire world.
The University of Arizona is very proud to lay claim to these amazing scientific tools and to provide the world with a great example of what is really out there. Located in the Coronado National Forest, this facility has lent its equipment to some rather amazing discoveries that have changed the way that people look at the stars every single day. Scientists can monitor things such as storms on Neptune and Saturn daily and even tell when a foreign object is headed to Earth from space. In any case, these works of mechanical art give Graham County another reason to be quite proud of the fact that they are the host to such scientific breakthroughs. Any time of year is perfect to go stargazing at the Arizona State University sponsored observatory.